International Day of Democracy was September 15, 2013.

In the past 40 years, the world has seen extraordinary shifts in how countries are governed: authoritarian governments fell in Latin America, Africa, East/Central Europe, and Eurasia. The Berlin Wall was torn down, and the Arab world awoke. Today, electoral democracies make up 61 percent of the world’s governments, according to Freedom House.

The theme of this year’s International Day of Democracy—Strengthening Voices for Democracy—reminds us of the importance of people’s voices, both expressed directly and through their elected representatives, in today’s political, economic, social, and technological debates. The ability of all citizens to decide how they are governed and participate meaningfully in political processes is at the core of democracy.

A group of Kenyan youth marching for peace before the general elections in March 2013. Photo credit: USAID/Kenya

A group of Kenyan youth marching for peace before the general elections in March 2013. Photo credit: USAID/Kenya

At USAID, we have placed this theme at the center of our new Strategy on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance. The Strategy is based on the premise that support for the establishment and consolidation of inclusive and accountable democracies is fundamental to sustainable development. The new Strategy refocuses our work on the key principles of participation and accountability, and on empowering reformers and citizens from the bottom up.

In transitioning countries such as Libya, we are supporting elections, access for persons with disabilities, elected congress and councils, women’s leadership, civil society, and capacity-building for leaders who will shape the debate on the country’s first democratic constitution.

To build on the global movement for transparency and accountability, our Grand Challenge for Development Making All Voices Count is supporting the use of technology and innovation to amplify the voices of citizens in emerging democracies and to enable governments to listen and respond.

For the first time in USAID’s history, our new Strategy also elevates human rights as a key development objective, ensuring that development is truly inclusive. This builds on the work that our field missions are already doing—such as in Malawi, where USAID is working to protect vulnerable groups such as women, persons with disabilities and LGBT persons and advocating for their fair treatment by law and in practice, and integrating these concerns across our programs.

As USAID continues to adapt our democracy, human rights and governance programs to the changing global context, we remain steadfast in our support for the aspirations of individuals to shape their own futures.